Wednesday, September 02, 2009

EPA Planning to Declare CO2 a Pollutant, But Not Yet

According to news reports, Lisa Jackson is planning to declare that carbon dioxide is a pollutant.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told reporters that a formal "endangerment finding," which would trigger federal regulations on greenhouse gas emissions, probably would "happen in the next months."

Jackson announced her timeline even as top senators said they were delaying plans to introduce legislation that would set new limits on carbon dioxide emissions. Senators had been scheduled to unveil legislation next Tuesday, but the date has now been pushed back to later in September.
Such a declaration would have serious effects.
The EPA can formalize the finding anytime, now that it has closed a 60-day public comment period that netted more than 300,000 responses.

A formal endangerment finding would obligate the agency to regulate greenhouse gas pollution under the Clean Air Act - even if Congress doesn't pass a final climate-change bill.

President Obama and Jackson have said they would prefer that Congress - rather than the EPA - take the lead in implementing new greenhouse gas limits. Businesses and energy industry leaders also have largely favored congressional action over EPA-imposed limits, because they believe lawmakers are better positioned to combine economic safeguards with any new carbon cap.
Carbon dioxide is not what we normally think of as pollution, since that term normally refers to toxic substances released into the environment. Instead, carbon dioxide is a normal product of our respiratory system, and it is vital for plants. However, the dose makes the poison, and in the case of carbon dioxide, excess amounts could trigger catastrophic climate change, which would be harmful to human health and well-being. So, as the Supreme Court recognized, it is right and necessary that the U.S. government take action on this issue. Given the current inability of Senate leadership to move useful legislation, regulations issued by the EPA may be the preferable route. If businesses would prefer that Congress deal with the issue, then they need to put some pressure on their favorite Senators to get a bill passed.